Thursday, August 20, 2009

16th CEO Series of Talks - Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon

The 16th CEO Series of Talks by Young Corporate Malaysians

This is a live blogging.

Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon
President and CEO of ING Malaysia

Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon feel young coming to speak to youth and she was told to talk about what you have done, your experience.

This talk is not about making your first million, nor about giving you formula of success.

Rather it is about what you stand for, who are you, where you want to go and what's value you must have in order to be successful. What is your definition of success.

Hopefully by end of this evening, you would have gain on some of these values.

The ones who are here are privileged bunch, and have power of education. Most have good jobs, good families and come from a background of affluence.

Within the same group, there are 2 groups, where one group who feels very happy with it. Happy with job and fits in with what you want to do. And another group may feel that you haven't found the calling or passion of life.

To both the groups, it is alright. To the group who has found it, don't stand still, and keep going, and see how can be better. See how can grow. Ask yourself the question frequent. To those who haven't found the calling, relax and believe that you have time. Look for your passion.

Back then, Indian families, you must have been a doctor, lawyer or engineer, and if all else fail, go to accounting. Naturally, became a doctor.

A lot of us want to be "genius" and always come out quick to work. We are not able to enjoy, as we always want it fast. On the other hand, we need to look for our passion and don't settle for less. Everyday, we spend the bulk of our time at work.

When speak to generation X, they always talk about work life balance. But in reality, there is no work life balance, but there is work life choice. Whatever you choose to do, you shape your life. You decide where you want to be in illusive corporate ladder. You decide where you want to be in your life. What do you see yourself doing in 5 years' time.

10 years ago, joined Aetna. That time, hoped to be CEO one day. Back then, Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon was a government doctor, and worked many hours a day. Husband and kids used to come over to hospital and have dinner together at General Hospital. No one was really happy back then.

When joined, was really bored to hell. Nothing much to do. Back then, wanted to have work life balance. And she really had, since she can go home at 5pm. During office, she could actually have relaxed too. Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon took the initiatives and tried to go to different groups, and then tried to offer help. She managed to get chance to go to US for 6 weeks to learn underwritings and claims. It was her choice to make and she took it. She made full use of it.

And now 16 years later, Dato' Dr. Nirmala is now on stage as CEO of ING Malaysia. Whether she still missed the life in hospital, she still missed it. She still missed the smell of medicine.

We all need to have a dream. If you dream it, you can achieve it. When Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon made it to CEO, a lot called her to say that she broke the glass ceiling. But there was no glass ceiling. Everything was in the mind.

A lot of time when being asked to name 2 leaders, people name men. But in reality, it
doesn't need to be that. People have to change the perception. A lot of time women try to be like men, and in reality, that shouldn't be the case.

Many people tend to associate females as caregivers, nurturers, but tend to associate
males as having guts.

Back then, a lot of women managers, they wanted to be called dragon ladies. They wanted to be associated as being tough.

What Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon advised are that the top leaders are great communicators, and also they care and they have empathy. A lot of these are qualities that women have. And build up with logic, intuitive etc, and that would be very balanced. For men, should build up the feminine quality, like communication, caring, empathy.

To all young professionals, professional actually means a calling or your vocation and integrity/value/standard. Companies say they want professionalism. When companies say that, think what they really want and whether they do what they want. Ask whether we have those believes and characters. And a lot of these will take us to where we want to go.

Know who you are and celebrate who you are. Build internal attitude and behavior and
all these would support where you want to go. As youngster, you have the chance of the world, to go where you want to go. There are more than enough for every man's need, but not enough for every man's greed.

Why we are thinking that the crisis is happening. A lot of us forget about value, when we are rushing to get more profits. When people have to take a long time to explain to us what they are selling, then we shouldn't buy, since we don't really understand the product.

Being in financial sector, it is tough and challenging time. Do we sit back and say "tough life" and sit and wait for rebounce? But what we need to do is to change. Change has the biggest psychological impact of our mind. A lot of times, we don't change. We just do our routine. A lot of times when we have to change what we are doing, we get upset. A lot of times, we are threathened by change. But to the hopeful, change may give us better life. But to the confident, you need to be inspired by it. Everyday, challenge what you do. Challenge what is the status quo. That is what going to bring you to greatness.

Generation Y are not afraid to stand up and question. That is the biggest strength to stand out and question. Generation Y are more carefree, more entrepreneurial. The way Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon see is that this is positive value. Back then, people were more afraid.

Ultimately, choose what you want in life and make it happen to you. The way we frame things, will determine how we see things.

What do we see when we see eclipse, we should see the ray of light, that is illumination and not darkness. We shouldn't see the gloom of darkness. We must be optimist. If we are pessimist, then we will lose out on all these.

When we look at things positively, we will make full use of it. There are so many real life examples, because people frame it at a positive manner. There is always a flip side, in everything that happens. When everything negative happens, flip it and grab the positive side. To the young, you have the ability to look for the right side. And always ask the right question, get back to the answer.

Never compromise on value and standard. When you fine value of the company is there, be truly committed and do your best at all time, and good thing will follow.

Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon will end with Mahatma Ghandi "Be the change you want to be". It is all up to you.

As you go up the ladder, it is about managing people. It is about making sure that you have the right person with the right job. Biggest challenge that Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon faced was that she was a peer, who became a boss. As Dato' Dr. Nirmala growing the ladder, she was peers to all the rest of senior management, and then suddenly she was promoted to take the CEO job.

When she doesn't know, she always be the first to say that she doesn't know. She asked for help. When she became CEO in October 2007, it was when US first get into recession. Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon brought 20 management team people and went to hotel and study where they are, where they want to go and how to go. Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon engaged a consultant to study the competitive landscape, and then see where they want to go and how to get there.

As all are sitting together to craft the vision, and as all are part of the ones who create it, all believe it and buy in for it. It was rolled out to the entire company. There were 3 year profitable plan. Everyone will speak with candor, and no fear for anyone to speak their mind. No fear of failure. As long as good idea is brought up, it will be done.

A lot of people were still in their traditional mind. People might not dare to speak up, as scared their boss or supervisor would get hurt. Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon did a monthly session with people of all level (without their supervisor). The first 6 months were very tough, as no one would ask any question. Now, everyone are happy, and ask a lot of questions.

When this was initially implemented, a lot of senior management felt threathened. Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon said that it was not the point. Dato' Dr. Nirmala shared those ideas with the senior management and worked together to make it better. Currently, the employee engagement is very high.

And giving back to community is something very important for the firm. It is not about giving a cheque. ING has "Helping Hands" community project and there are 500 volunteers (out of 800 staff in HQ) go together as part of program to make a difference. They went to make a difference in the kids by sharing with them on environment.

Last year, was 45th anniversary of Zoo Negara. ING gave out 60,000 tickets to the orphanages to bring the kids to visit the zoo. The kids were brought to play games. And the week before that, ING staff went to paint the fence near the sea lion area in the zoo.

Whatever you feel that you want to do, go ahead and do. Give back to society, be it to community, cultural or society. Do the humanitarian job. Join self improvement classes or read those books, or join such societies like Young Corporate Malaysians and learn from the process.

Think of what we want to be remembered in life. Is it as a good human being? Is it as someone who cares about people? Dato' Dr. Nirmala Menon stressed a lot about being good human being.

Truth is that so many things happen everyday. It is perfectly ok, if your supervisor does not see what you have done. It is ok to share with the supervisor of things done. It is something that frequently women fail to do. And what Dato' Dr. Nirmala stressed is that all people have to work very hard.

Dato' Dr. Nirmala has a very supportive husband. A lot is about priority. What we care about and how we prioritize. And often, things can work it out together. And sometimes, things are lost. With the work pressure and work choices that have to be made, things could have to be sacrificed.

Over the years, many mistakes have been made. One big mistake was not knowing what Dato' Dr. Nirmala wanted to do. A lot of time, she sold herself short, and often, she didn't plan well. If she could turn the clock well, she could see the options available and plan it better. What has happened was natural movement.

Dato' Dr. Nirmala never shy in sharing her opinion. If something is against her value, she won't do it, even if her supervisor made her to do.

Everyone has a choice. We choose what we should take.

Create rapport with all the people that you are working with. Always be honest and transparent in our dealings. Talk to them in a comfortable level. We are not aggressive, but try to create a rapport. NLP is a good tool to look at someone and see whether someone is visual or kinestetic person, then we talk to people in that manner. Use words that people are comfortable with. When we see peple and understand people, then we are easier to relate to. The truth is that everyone is different.

A lot of youth these days are visual. We like to see things, or be like in internet. We like to grasp things, and quick to run it. And there are others who need top down. People who need to go through everything. And we need to sell it at the way others like to see. Build genuine rapport and things will turn better.

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